The hundreds of squat brick buildings sit on acres of rolling land, nestled in tall trees where Arlington meets Alexandria.
They were thrown up quickly during World War II to alleviate a desperate shortage of housing for people flooding into the Washington area to work. As soon as construction was complete, defense workers scurried to occupy the units.
Parkfairfax, built in 1941 and 1942, has 1,684 all-brick garden-style condo units.
(Photos Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Nowadays, the thousands of condominiums in the neighboring wartime developments of Fairlington and Parkfairfax are as popular with defense workers -- and others coming to Washington for jobs -- as they were when they were first built as rental housing in the early 1940s.
"I didn't know anything about the area when I moved here," said U.S. Army Maj. Mary Connell, who recently came to the Washington area from Kansas and bought a townhouse in Fairlington. "When I saw Fairlington, though, I knew right away that I liked it. It was the trees and the landscape, and the history."
Although sales have slowed a bit the past couple months, compared with the frenzy of spring, buyers are still snapping up the condos in a matter of days. The rich 60-year history of the developments attracts them, as well as the close-in location -- and the price.
The condos took a while to catch on, though. Five years ago, when real estate prices began soaring elsewhere in the region, the units at Parkfairfax and Fairlington remained stubbornly inexpensive. Two to three years ago, though, prices there took off, too, as defense jobs increased in the area and buyers were priced out of single-family houses close to the District. And although the two neighborhoods are still considered relatively affordable, that may not last much longer.
"It's young professionals working in defense, in Homeland Security, at the Pentagon and in the government who are buying," said John Meyer, an agent with Re/Max Allegiance who specializes in the Parkfairfax development. "Why? Because it's affordable housing close to their jobs."
Parkfairfax, a sprawling condominium development of 1,684 all-brick garden-style units in more than 200 buildings on 132 acres in northwest Alexandria, was built in 1941 and 1942 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. of New York to develop rental housing near the Pentagon.
Fairlington, an adjacent, larger complex of 3,449 all-brick units on 322 acres in the southernmost corner of Arlington County, was built from 1942 to 1944 by the federal government's Defense Homes Corp. to house defense workers and their families. Fairlington was the nation's largest apartment complex when it was built.
Both developments were part of the government's answer to a severe wartime housing crisis in the Washington area. Other smaller garden-style apartment complexes were also built in and around the District, such as McLean Gardens and Naylor Gardens in the District, during the same time for the same reason. Defense Homes also built apartment complexes for war workers in other parts of the country.
Garden apartments, or low-rise, low-density units, gained in popularity in the United States in the Depression years of the 1930s as a response to the severe lack of rental housing for moderate-income families. The style became even more prevalent during World War II as the need to house defense workers grew critical.
Early residents of Fairlington, which is 2 1/2 miles from the Pentagon, rented one-bedroom units for $58.50 a month. They paid up to $89.50 for the three-bedroom attached duplexes.